More “problematic cliches” about Nazi Israel at the Guardian

August 21st, 2009 by Mark Gardner

It is neither CST’s role nor wish to enter the often overheated debate as to whether or not criticism of Israel in the Guardian - and its highly successful online variant, Comment is Free (CiF) - is fair, balanced or proportionate. 

Nevertheless, there are far too many occasions when the anti-Israel sentiment of Guardian and CiF contributors comes to our attention: this is not so much because the content might be misconstrued as explicitly antisemitic, but rather because it employs loose, crass and offensive langauge that should have no place in as influential an institution as the Guardian. (An institution, moreover, that claims to uphold the highest of moral and editorial values).   

There are numerous examples of Guardian and CiF excesses in CST’s latest antisemitic discourse report, and another depressing example occurred on 18 August in an article by Slavoj Zizek that featured in both the print edition of the Guardian, and online at CiF. Zizek’s article accused Israel of taking over Palestinian territory: and in its original CiF version, stated that the land would be “Palestinian-frei”. Two days later, on 20 August, CiF amended this to read “Palestinian-free”, just as the actual print copy had read in the Guardian.

To some, this may appear a moot difference, but “Palestinian-free” is not the Nazi-themed term that “Palestinian-frei” is. After all, the Nazi Holocaust was designed to leave Europe “Juden-frei”, and the gate at Auschwitz read “Arbeit Macht Frei”. This is not to say that the Guardian and CiF should be accusing Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing’, far from it, but in this world of very small mercies, “frei” is clearly a Nazi slander, whereas “free” has no particular Jewish connotation.   

CiF has tried hard in recent years to improve its moderation policies regarding comments upon the site, and in particular against the upsetting and hateful screeds that so often follow Israel and Jewish related articles. Their attitude to the accuracy and content of actual articles (rather than comments) has not always been so apparent, but CiF has explained their welcome decision to alter “frei” to “free” (see the foot of Zizek’s article) as:

“Due to an error, an edit to the print version of this article was not made to the online version. In print, the term “Palestinian-frei” was changed to read “Palestinian-free”. This edit has now been applied to the online version, as of 20 August 2009.”

It is not 100% clear from this explanation whether or not “Palestinian-frei” originated from Zizek’s original transcript, but this seems by far the most logical reading of the sentence.  So, CiF’s alteration is certainly a welcome one and it leaves the article not quite as gratuitously offensive as it originally appeared to be.

I say ‘not quite as gratuitously offensive’, because the actual paragraph in which “Palestinian-frei” originally appeared is itself quite disgraceful. The paragraph is shown below (in its original “frei” form):

“Palestinians often use the problematic cliché of the Gaza strip as “the greatest concentration camp in the world”. However, in the past year, this designation has come dangerously close to truth. This is the fundamental reality that makes all abstract “prayers for peace” obscene and hypocritical. The state of Israel is clearly engaged in a slow, invisible process, ignored by the media; one day, the world will awake and discover that there is no more Palestinian West Bank, that the land is Palestinian-frei, and that we must accept the fact. The map of the Palestinian West Bank already looks like a fragmented archipelago.”

So, according to Zizek, the Palestinians’ “problematic cliche” of Gaza being “the greatest concentration camp in the world”  is “dangerously close to the truth”. Israel, one presumes, is becoming the new Nazi Germany, and Palestinians are becoming the new Jews. Furthermore, this moral and historical perversion of Holocaust imagery is nothing more than a “problematic cliche” that is, anyway, now coming to fruition. 

Zizek’s assertion that “one day, the world will wake up and discover that there is no more Palestinian West Bank, that the land is Palestinian-frei…” is not so much immoral as simply ludicrous. Are we to believe that one morning, the world will wake up and suddenly realise  that Nablus, Hebron, Jericho, Bethlehem and countless other places have no population remaining? How will this occur? Will a Guardian journalist call room service in their Ramallah hotel one morning and receive no breakfast? And if so, will this journalist also fall prey to the extraordinary phenomenon whereby this enforced mass depopulation was somehow an “invisible process, ignored by the media”?

There is more than one “problematic cliche” in Zizek’s article, and in its publication by the Guardian and CiF. The most egregious part of one of those has been belatedly taken care of, but how many more “problematic cliches” will the Guardian stable keep chucking at us?